In ‘PodiumGate,’ Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders faces questions about a speaking stand some believe carried an absurd price tag.
How much should a speaking stand actually cost? That’s a question people are asking in Arkansas in a controversy that earned the unfortunate — and incorrect — nickname “PodiumGate.”
It began when a blogger submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain expense reports. The reports focused on a trip Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders made to France, Talking Points Memo reported. After a legal battle that only drew attention to the FOIA request, documents revealed an interesting side note. The governor’s office paid $19,000 for a lectern.
How much should a lectern cost?
The Wall Street Journal published a photo of the pricey speaker’s stand. It has a small, tapering base that narrows from the floor to the base of the platform. There may be a little space for storage beneath the surface on which a speaker might place a speech. But if there’s actually any storage available in that base, it looks to be big enough to hold a bottle of water and that’s about it.
When most people think of a speaker’s stand, particularly for a high-ranking political official, they probably picture the blue fabric-covered lectern seen at presidential speeches. Those stands have a solid base someone can stand behind. In some cases, the bases are wide enough that you can stand completely behind them. If it were a desk, you might consider it serving as a kind of “modesty panel.”
But what would you pay for one of those? I found a “Presidential Podium,” whose name comes complete with a trademark symbol, at a company called ExecutiveWood.com. It looks similar to the kind of speaking stand presidents use. It has a shelf below the top in which equipment and other things may be stored. If you want to buy one, you’ll shell out about $6,000.
There’s just one thing: It’s not a podium
People easily confuse the words podium and lectern. This has been one of my quirky pet peeves for years because it strikes me as an easy mistake to avoid.
NPR points out that on social media, the controversy employs two hashtags: #podiumgate and #lecterngate. But most other sources talk only about “PodiumGate” and stop there.
That’s unfortunate because what the WSJ pictured in its coverage isn’t a podium. It’s a lectern.
And yes, there’s a difference.
A lectern is the object a speaker stands behind. A podium is the platform a speaker stands on.
The prefix pod- in podium refers to the foot. That’s why a podiatrist is a doctor who specializes in one’s feet. A podium is where the speaker at an event places his feet. It’s a raised platform on which a speaker presents his or her material. You can “step up to the podium” if there’s a raised platform serving as a podium.
Once you arrive on the podium, you’ll stand behind the lectern, the stand used to hold a speech, notes, microphones, perhaps a bottle of water, and, probably, a fancy logo facing the listeners.
No, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about the confusion over lectern and podium. Here’s a post from 11 years ago. I’ll probably write about it again some day. If the current pattern holds up, I guess I’ll have another follow-up in 2034.
In the meantime, I’ll hope people will finally grasp the difference.